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Published: 10/08/2013 - by Mark Takahashi, Automotive Editor
Let's all agree that relationships are challenging. Besides searching for the right fit amid the distractions and clutter, there's the effort in keeping the whole affair fresh and inspiring.
For the longest time, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class represented the type of luxury car with which you can build a meaningful relationship. It was sophisticated, attractive, dependable and a willing companion in your travels. It was the car you'd be proud to bring home. For 2014, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class may have hit a little bump in the road, however. A midcycle crisis, if you will. It got a little cosmetic work done, and in the process, its personality shifted just a bit, too.
More Features, New Look
For 2014, the Mercedes-Benz E-Class undergoes the first refresh since this fourth-generation model debuted in 2010. Our E350 test vehicle arrived with the Sport package, which removes the traditional three-pointed star ornament from the hood and places a much larger one smack dab in the middle of the grille. There's also a lower sport-tuned suspension and additional body cladding. It's a no-cost option, but it reduces some of the sedan's elegant road presence. From a design perspective, it looks like it's trying too hard to be something it's not.
Foregoing the Sport package gets you a much more measured nip and tuck, with a subtle tightening around the familiar grille, the tri-star emblem back atop the hood, a more sculpted chin and updated headlights.
This midcycle refresh also brings with it new standard features. Attention Assist helps keep drivers alert behind the wheel, and if their attention does lapse, Collision Prevention Assist diminishes the chances of rear-ending the car in front. Meanwhile, a new Eco stop-start function squeezes an extra mile or two out of every gallon of premium fuel. Optionally, buyers can choose from an array of safety assistants: surround-view camera system, cross-traffic alert, active parking assist and pre-collision passenger protection.
Take the Good With the Bad
Beneath that face-lift and safety updates, much of the E's core goodness remains. It does, after all, do luxury right. With a foundation of old-school sophistication, utilizing rich wood trim and finely grained surfaces, the interior is as a Mercedes should be: stately. We're even pleased with the MB-Tex synthetic leather that has the look and feel of genuine hides. Surrounding all of that is an appropriate amount of sound insulation that keeps road and wind noise from intruding.
While performing the usual commuting duties, our E350 maintains its poise with shifts that are so smooth, they're practically seamless. The new Eco stop-start is as good as those systems get, too, as it's quick to reawaken the engine at a stop without an intrusive shudder. Also praiseworthy are the front seats that provide hours of comfortable touring, though taller drivers noted that the seat cushion lacked thigh support. Rounding out the E-Class' many positive attributes are superb visibility in every direction, an intuitive COMAND interface and a large 15.9-cubic-foot trunk.
But somewhere along the way, the 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class seems to have lost some of the heft and solidity that we've become accustomed to. It no longer feels carved from a solid chunk of steel. It feels a bit more ordinary and a little less special.
From the driver's point of view, some of this is attributed to the new electric power steering system. Any notion of immediacy and road connection is lost, along with the revised effort and feedback. Where Mercedes' steering was typically on the heavy side, the new steering is too light effort and easily outrun with quick inputs. When the assist is outrun, it's replaced with confidence-sapping resistance. Even the self-centering effect seems to lazily miss the mark.
The Sport package, too, changes the car's character. We're used to an E-Class soaking up a majority of surface imperfections with grace and ease, but our E350 was simply too stiff on uneven bits of highway.
Not the Sportiest Sport Sedan
Under the hood is the same 3.5-liter V6 as before, churning out 302 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It's lashed to a seven-speed automatic transmission that, in our 4Matic tester, sends power to all four wheels. The EPA estimates fuel economy at 24 mpg in combined driving (21 city/29 highway), but we only managed to attain 25.8 mpg on our highway-heavy evaluation route and 18.7 mpg over its time with us.
At the track, the E350 4Matic made the sprint to 60 mph in 6.0 seconds (5.8 seconds with a 1-foot rollout as on a drag strip), which is essentially what we'd expect from its BMW 5 Series opponent. The brakes are equally effective, bringing the car to a halt from 60 mph in only 110 feet.
Even with the promise of our E350's Sport package, its handling reactions were far from athletic. And though it weaved through our slalom at 65.1 mph and pulled 0.87g around the skid pad (also comparable numbers to a 5 Series), the Mercedes never felt confidently tethered to the road. Rapid transitions weren't as easily managed as they are in most competitors, and the lazy steering further compounded matters, leaving us guessing how the car would react.
Even so, all of the numbers are adequate for the segment, and will not leave the average driver wanting better performance. Though sporty handling might not be a priority for most drivers, it's worth mentioning the E350's shortcomings.
There Might Be a Better Choice
The 2014 Mercedes-Benz E-Class is still a good luxury sedan. Perhaps without the Sport package it could be even better. If we only cared about getting around in luxury, the E350 is a top pick, but if you're after a sedan that ideally balances performance and luxury, there are better choices. The Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Jaguar XF more accurately hit the mark.
With a base price of $55,325 for our E350 4Matic, the Mercedes is competitively priced. Our well-optioned tester totaled $65,300, which is still comparable to similarly equipped rivals. But with the bottom line being effectively equal, Mercedes-Benz could have done better. And with all these fish in the sea, you could do better, too.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.